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A Stress-Recovery Regime

September '09

I was listening to Tal Ben-Shahar on PBS the other night. When he started talking about stress, I stopped loading the dishwasher and sat down to watch. Since the challenges of midlife generate a significant amount of stress, I was curious to hear what this Positive Psychology expert had to say on the subject. (Ben-Shahar is that professor at Harvard whose course on Happiness drew the largest enrollment of any course in the undergraduate catalog.)

Ben-Shahar was suggesting that stress, in itself, is not bad – noting that stress can even make us stronger and more resilient. As he sees it, the problem is that folks do not know how to recover from stress, so he focuses his attention on stress recovery.

I grasped the concept immediately, as I remembered the trainer at my local gym telling me to allow a day in between the Nautilus exercises he was demonstrating in order for my muscles to have time to recover. I also thought about my various yoga teachers over the years, who all emphasized that relaxing after a pose is as important as holding the pose. (And who doesn’t love Shavassana, corpse pose – that most restful end to a class – especially when your yoga instructor provides temple rubs with lavender lotion!)

I could easily see how this notion of recovery might benefit my clients, as well my friends, and myself. We’re all doers. As gals-on-the-go, we move from one project to the next. I wondered what might happen if we took a breather after completing a piece of work and congratulated ourselves on a job well done before jumping into the next big task on our “to-do” list.

Turns out this approach is the first of the three, stress-recovery strategies that Ben-Shahar outlined.
1. Micro-breaks – mini breaks of a few minutes, or a few hours throughout the day.
2. Mezzo breaks – Getting enough sleep at night and taking a day off here and there. Research has shown that folks who take a day off a week are healthier and more creative.
3. Macro breaks – Weeks, or even months. Most of us do not have the opportunity to take months off at a time, but he recommends taking that week, or two-week vacation.

As far as I’m concerned, the challenges of midlife warrant a year’s sabbatical, but Ben-Shahar’s micro, mezzo and macro breaks seem like a marvelous substitution for those who cannot spend a year allowing the fields of their psyche to lie fallow.

How about you? If you’re a gal-on-the-go, why not institute a stress-recovery regime in the upcoming week? You can try inserting a few micro breaks during the day. Then be bold and add the mezzo breaks of a good night’s sleep every night and a day off to improve your health and creativity. If you do experiment with this stress-recovery regime, I’d love to hear about your results.

As for me, right now I think I’ll have a cup of tea!

Happy fall,


  1. Kay Flynn said on September 29, 2009:

    Hear, hear! And we should not get stressed out about taking that two week vacation!!! Our work will all be there when we get back.

  2. Bonnie said on September 29, 2009:

    Yes, indeedie, Kay: )

  3. Elaine Cass said on October 29, 2009:

    Bonnie, Taking a micro , planning on a mezzo and going to have a nice cup of green tea and then call a friend to chat. Surely nothing on the desk will miss me. Warm Thoughts, Elaine

  4. Bonnie said on October 29, 2009:

    Hi Elaine!

    Sounds great to me – especially this time of year!
    Happy holidays to you!


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